Thursday, October 3, 2013

A Man's World

Frank Ware is a young novelist in the New York of 1909 who is gaining a reputation for writing about the city’s underclass. When word gets out that Frank is a woman, the general assumption is that she must be getting help from a man. Frank laughs off that slight, but the sexism she will face later is much more personal, forcing her to choose between her long-held beliefs and love in A Man’s World, the engaging revival of Rachel Crothers’s 1910 drama directed by Michael Hardart at the Metropolitan Playhouse.

Living in a Greenwich Village walkup with Kiddie (Michael Fader), a 7-year-old boy she has adopted, Frank (Kathleen Dobbs) is independent and upbeat, and quite sure of her place in the world. The equality of women is a given to her.

“I’m a natural woman -- because I’m a free one,” she says, explaining that her father had told her stories and taken her everywhere with him to give her a broad education. “I began to balance men and women very early -- and the more I knew -- the more I tho’t the women had the worst of it.”

An assortment of artistic friends and neighbors make themselves at home in her apartment and she seems content with her life, which besides writing also includes working with disadvantaged women. When Frank is not around, the friends speculate about Kiddie’s parentage, most assuming that he is her child.

The issue is forced when Frank falls in love with Malcolm Gaskell (Kelly Dean Cooper) who loves her too and wants to marry her, provided Kiddie isn’t hers.  A woman with an illegitimate child is completely unacceptable to him.

A miniature portrait of Kiddie that a neighbor, Clara (Kendall Rileigh), has painted exposes the hypocrisy of his stance. As the friends study it, they become convinced they see a resemblance to Malcolm. Frank learns of their suspicions and confronts Malcolm, who is shocked at the idea, but doesn’t see a man with an illegitimate child as any kind of obstacle in a relationship.

“A man wants the mother of his children to be the purest woman in the world,” he says.

Frank understands all too well.

“Yes, and a man expects the purest woman in the world to forgive him anything -- everything,” she says. “It’s wrong. It’s hideously wrong.”

It is wrong, but women still live with inequality, mostly now it terms of income, so the play doesn’t feel dated. The assumptions Frank challenges are still out there and it in many ways it continues to be a man’s world.

Crothers (1878-1958) didn’t live to see this sexual double standard overturned. Interestingly, she wrote A Man’s World early in her career, one of the 23 plays she would pen. I was happy to discover her at the Mint Theater, first with Susan and God in 2006 and then with A Little Journey in 2011. I like her courageous female characters who struggle to live life on their own terms.

Metropolitan Playhouse has done an splendid job of giving this work new life. All parts of the production come together well. I especially liked Dobbs’s portrayal of Frank as strong, intelligent and extremely likable. And artistic director Alex Roe has created sets that are part Victorian, part bohemian and fit just right in the limited space the theatre has for a stage.

The production runs through Oct. 13. For information and tickets, visit

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